ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI – India's biggest media giants Zindagi TV will make some of Pakistan's best television shows available to households all over India.
“It requires courage because of the fraught political situation but we think these shows will be liked a great deal,” said Shailja Kejriwal, an executive from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (Zeel), which is spending almost £10m just on launching the channel.
The broadcasting of Pakistani programmes for the first time on Indian television comes as hopes rise that newly-elected governments in Islamabad and New Delhi will attempt to salve fraught relations between the two countries. Kejriwal said that the Indian public was deeply curious about life in Pakistan.
“It is quite startling that post-independence the Indian viewer has never actually seen Pakistan visually,” she said. “Test audiences were sort of stunned and excited when we revealed these places were in Pakistan because they felt so familiar to them.”
Although shows from Turkey and Egypt will be added to the line-up, the channel will initially only offer Pakistani shows including comedies, one-off television films and classic domestic dramas set around a household of characters. There is no shortage of such shows already made in India.
But, Kejriwal says like Brits in Hollywood, Pakistani television still enjoys a reputation for being slightly classier than the local fare. Despite hopes television may help to bring two countries closer together, previous attempts at cultural détente have been scuppered by resurgence of tensions between the two.
In 1999, a rare Pak-Indo co-production of a drama series had to be scrapped half-way through filming after the short war at the Kargil region in the divided state of Jammu Kashmir. Hopes are rising of better relations as politicians and big business in both countries call for closer economic ties to fire up much needed growth.
Zeel Chairman Subhash Chandra is among the Mumbai-based tycoons who have lobbied for the current levels of trade between Pakistan and India to be greatly increased. In the last two years, he has had two meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last year who has long been a strong proponent of better relations with India.
Kitty Kaur, 57, who grew up in New Delhi listening to her father's stories about his home in Lahore that he had to leave during partition, said she thought Zindagi was a wonderful idea. “I don't have the courage to go to Lahore and see my home, but I would love to see contemporary Pakistan on television,” she said.
Rajan Tripathi, a Mumbai-based television critic, warned Indians will immediately turn against the channel if the two countries return to a war footing. “This may sound ridiculous but the sudden decision to reject anything and everything connected with Pakistan can never be ruled out,” he said.